Resource Guide: Nuclear Seismic Hazards

Nuclear power plants are built to withstand all environmental hazards, including earthquakes. As the debate continues in addressing the various costs of building secure and efficient power plants, the Forum on Energy has compiled a comprehensive Nuclear Seismic Hazards Resource Guide examining the policy, regulatory, technical and geopolitical aspects surrounding the seismic threat within public institutions and private industry. The guide identifies relevant and easy-to-understand online resources from governmental, academic, media and business entities both nationally and internationally. It includes:

  • Accurate news coverage
  • Informational graphics
  • Educational videos
  • Reports and publications
  • Online resources
Graphic courtesy of The Guardian

Graphic courtesy of The Guardian

The Forum on Energy invites you to explore the guide and inform yourself about nuclear seismic hazards. Click through the sections below to learn more.

Nuclear Seismic Hazards in the News

European Conference Focuses on Safety
At the POWER-GEN 2013 Conference in Vienna, presenters shared updates on nuclear reactor projects across Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland, according to an article in Power Engineering International. Professor Jukka Laaksonen, Vice President of Rosatom Overseas, said, “all new nuclear power plants under construction take into account the main safety issues that arose from Fukushima, including cooling of core without electrical power and the protection of the reactor containment integrity after potential core meltdowns.”
Source: Power Engineering International

Taiwan’s Newest Plant and the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’
Taiwanese residents debate whether to build the island’s fourth nuclear power plant near an active seismic fault. There is a possibility that safety concerns will shut down the plan and result in a loss of $9 billion that has already been invested by its national utility company, Taipower.
Source: Al Jazeera

Mitigating Seismic Risk
In Eastern Tennessee’s Clinch River area, engineers are drilling core samples, documenting geologic, hydrologic, and seismic conditions—the initial step in plans to site the world’s first commercial small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Stakeholders, who argue that full-size nuclear power plants have a greater risk of seismic incidents or other disruptions, hope that the smaller scale of these SMRs will motivate reviewers to fast-track their approval and production. This process has also spawned a debate on the possibility of shrinking the ‘safety zones’ currently in place larger nuclear facilities.
Source: National Geographic

Earthquakes Could Be Catastrophic for Iranian Nuclear Plants
A recent internal report by Iranian scientists warned government officials about possibly catastrophic consequences as a result of constructing nuclear plants in a seismically-active area. Despite these grim warnings, plans remain in place to add two more facilities at Bushehr — where an April 2011 earthquake struck — along with 16 additional reactors in other parts of the country.
Source: The Atlantic

Nuclear Seismic Hazards Graphics


The graph, at left, from the World Nuclear Association, shows the three major reactor accidents in the history of civil nuclear power — Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima — in the context of over 14,500 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation.

The map below overlays a heatmap of 175,000 4.5+ magnitude earthquakes since 1973 based on data from the United States Geological Survey with worldwide locations of nuclear power stations, using information from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The map was originally created for and posted on a blog called
The chart below from the Center for Strategic and International Studies depicts the number of nuclear reactors (both in 2011 and an estimate for 2030) compared to ‘Seismic Density’ (the number of earthquakes/area in sq. km).


 The Federation of American Scientists also offers a compilation of maps comparing operating nuclear power plants with various variables, including existing North American faults and their geographical location vis-à-vis major American metropolitan areas, seismic hazards in terms of percent Gravitational Acceleration and various other hazard levels.


The nuclear seismic hazard videos below include educational and useful clips from various sources.

Sleuthing Seismic Signals: Understanding Earthquake Hazard and Monitoring Nuclear Explosions
Lawrence Livermore National Lab scientist Sean Ford and teacher Ken Wedel discuss the effects of earthquakes on a nuclear facility. They also discuss how seismologists tell the difference between earthquakes and nuclear explosions by sleuthing seismic signals.
Source: University of California

The Japan Nuclear Incident: An Overview
Rick Hasselberg from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response discusses and analyzes the March 2011 events at the Fukushima site in Japan from a scientific and technical viewpoint. Two videos are available: part 1 here and part 2 here.
Source: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission


MIT Report: Learning the lessons of Fukushima
MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering reports how the events unfolded at the Fukushima plant in the period following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They also examine some possible policy changes to consider for those charged with planning future nuclear plant construction.
Source:Massachusetts Institute of Technology

NAIIC: The National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Report
A report written by the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) examines possible factors that led to the Fukushima incident. It also suggests changes in the current system to strengthen the Japanese nuclear sector.
Source: NAIIC

Regulating Japanese Nuclear Power in the Wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Accident
A report that examines the structural weaknesses prior to the accident and offers proposed regulatory reforms, including an overhaul of the nuclear regulatory bureaucracy and specific safety requirements.
Source: Federation of American Scientists

Online Resources

Fact Sheet on Earthquakes and Seismic Activity
United States Geological Survey

Fact Sheet on Probabilistic Risk Assessment
A guide to Probabilistic Risk Assessment, the dynamic process utilized by United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission analysts to quantify risk and identify what factors could have the most impact on safety.
Source: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Fact Sheet on Nuclear Reactor Risk
A guide to the policy, regulations and regulatory framework which leads to the robust safety systems in nuclear plants. These guidelines are far-reaching and impact reactor operators, testing and maintenance activities, and the regulatory requirements and oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Source: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Fact Sheet on Seismic Issues for Nuclear Power Plants
A guide describing the dynamic process by which seismic issues influence the safety regulation and requirements for new or existing plants. The probabilistic approach is also discussed.
Source: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Frequently Asked Questions Related to the March 11, 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Nuclear Power Plant Design and Seismic Safety Considerations
A primer on the seismic criteria applied to siting and designing commercial nuclear power plants in the United States by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Source: Federation of American Scientists

Nuclear Power Plants and Earthquakes
A chronological overview of seismic events worldwide over the past three decades enumerating the high success rate of ‘tripping’ mechanisms of seismic detectors that shut down nuclear plants during major earthquake or tsunami-related natural disasters.Power plant design criteria is also examined.
Source: World Nuclear Association

Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors
An historical overview of the three major reactor accidents in the history of civil nuclear power — Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima — in the context of over 14,500 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 32 countries. The evolution of how safeguards have developed, from early Soviet-style mechanisms to present-day systems, is also examined.
Source: World Nuclear Association